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Voices of the Global Community

Chris Cook, University of Central Florida

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Adaptability, like most skills, is more beneficial the earlier it is learned. In the September 2010 issue of Academic Advising Today, Ian Keil (University of Southern California) described the importance of study abroad. In his article, Keil (2010) demonstrated how fundamental the development of “adaptability” is to a study abroad experience and to students’ academic careers. While Keil provided readers with an excellent argument for promoting and supporting study abroad, I would suggest that advisors should go a step further and encourage students to experience different cultures earlier in their academic careers.

Carlson, Burn, Useem and Yachomowicz (1990) noted that study abroad experiences promote higher educational attainment for participating students (p.92). In fact, Young (2004) found that students taking part in a study abroad at a particular liberal arts university were more likely to graduate in four years than those who chose not to do so (p. 20). Among the many studies on the benefits of study abroad, Milstein (2005) reported a 95.5 percent increase in perceived self-efficacy (p. 228), Twibell & Ryan (2000) describe a major impact of the experience being an increase in personal growth (p.421), and Juhasz and Walker (1988) argue that study abroad participants develop more realistic self-appraisals of self-confidence, self-reliance, maturity, and independence (p.336). In sum, Leslie and Sutton (2010) compiled evidence that the study abroad experience fosters growth in self-identity and the understanding of personal goals in a broad social and cultural context with impacts “far beyond language acquisition” (pp. 166-171). These are qualities most advisors would like to cultivate in our freshmen and sophomore advisees. Taken one step further, it is equally important that we consider how more exposure to global and cultural issues can increase our students’ chances for success in the future.

We might expect that study abroad participants increase their global knowledge and develop their cultural competencies so that they become more marketable in the professional world. This is indeed the case. Hovland (2009) reported on 2006 and 2007 surveys of business leaders conducted through the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Results showed that 72 percent believed that universities were “underemphasizing global issues” and almost half of respondents “did not think their recent college hires had the global knowledge necessary for advancement” (p.4). While study abroad is but one aspect within the development of cultural competency and global knowledge, it can provide student participants with a competitive edge in an increasingly global workforce. Students who begin this exposure to global issues and cultural awareness earlier in their academic careers have more opportunity to hone these needed skills.

Using the student population at Florida State University, Posey (2003) was able to show that 80.8 percent of study abroad participants tracked received a baccalaureate degree compared to 56.6 percent of non-study abroad participants (p. 59).  Additionally, participants often return to the home campus with stronger convictions regarding their major choice and more desire to further their education in graduate school (Dwyer and Peters, 2004, ¶14). Study abroad experiences are catalysts for increased maturity, cultural sensitivity, cultural interaction as well as career focus (Dwyer & Peters ¶3). These students persist at their institutions and graduate in a timely manner with higher GPAs (Posey p.63-66). In an ever increasing global economy, study abroad plays a crucial role in preparing these students to take their degrees out into the workforce (Carlson, et al., p.114). If study abroad facilitates the development of the type of student that both advisors and employers like to see, then why do many students wait until their junior or senior years to participate? If study abroad facilitates the type of student growth and development that research seems to suggest, then shouldn’t advisors reconsider the traditional notion that students need to “mature” before experiencing another society?  Every year more students matriculate directly from high school with earned higher education credits. Study abroad may be just the answer for eighteen or nineteen year old freshmen with large numbers of college credits earned in high school who need the emotional, personal, and professional growth a study abroad experience can bring.

Even more to the point, a student’s first study abroad experience simply makes more sense at an earlier stage in the academic career of a traditional student (Leslie & Sutton, p.171). During the first few terms, students focus on general education programs, lower level electives, and language courses. These early academic terms, before students settle into what can be a lock-step progression of upper divison courses, can be the perfect time for advisors to encourage study abroad explorations.

The question that may bother some academic advisors is ‘are freshmen and sophomores mature enough to go abroad?’ To this point advisors should ask themselves if juniors and seniors not exposed to cultural experiences that challenge assumptions, ideas, and beliefs are any better off? Study abroad programs that include interaction and guidance can be just what these students need. Guidance does not need to come solely from faculty members; Keil (2010) noted that “as academic advisors, it is our obligation to teach students the skills they need to succeed in school and in life” (¶5).

Advisors are some of the best candidates to develop and lead study abroad programs. When we encourage participation earlier in our students’ academic careers, we encourage the growth needed to give students a competitive edge in an increasingly global workforce.

Chris Cook
Coordinator of Academic Support Services and Director of the Sophomore Experience Abroad (S.E.A.)
College of Sciences
University of Central Florida
christopher.cook@ucf.edu

References

Carlson, J., Burn, B., Useem, J., & Yachimowicz, D. (1990). Study abroad: The experience of American undergraduates. Westport, CN: Greenwood Press.

Dwyer, M. M., & Peters, C. K. (2004). The benefits of study abroad: New study confirms significant gains. Retrieved fromwww.transitionsabroad.com/publications/magazine/0403/benefits_study_abroad.shtml

Hovland, K. (2009, Fall). Global learning: What is it? Who is responsible for it? Peer Review.

Juhasz, A., & Walker, A. (1988). The impact of study abroad on university students' self-esteem and self-efficacy. College Student Journal, 22, 329-341.

Keil, I. (2010, September). Raising the bar: Why is study abroad so fundamentally important.Academic Advising Today, 33(3).

Leslie, S. L., & Sutton, S. B. (2010). The potential of study abroad in the sophomore year. In Hunter, M.S., Tobolowsky, B.F., Gardner, J.N., Evenbeck, S.E., Patlengale, J.A., Schaller, M. & Schreiner, LA., Helping Sophomores Succeed: Understanding and Improving the Second-Year Experience (pp.163-176). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Milstein, T. (2005). Transformation abroad: Sojourning and the perceived enhancement of self-efficacy. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 29, 217-238.

Posey, J. (2003). Study abroad: Educational and employment outcomes of participants versus non participants. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (Publication number 3137474).

Twibell, R.S. & Ryan, M.E.  (2000). Concerns, values, stress, coping, health and educational outcomes of college students who studied abroad. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 24, 409-435.

Young, D. Y. (2004). Persistence at a Liberal Arts University and Participation in a Study-Abroad Program. Paper presented at the Annual Forum of the Association for Institutional Research, Boston.

Cite this article using APA style as: Cook, C. (2011, December). Encouraging study abroad sooner than later. Academic Advising Today, 34(4). Retrieved from [insert url here] 

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